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How children playing Fortnite are helping to fuel organised crime

An investigation by The Independent into online black markets selling V-bucks reveals the scale of the money laundering operations

Anthony Cuthbertson
Sunday 13 January 2019 17:36 GMT
Trailer for Fortnite on Android

Criminals are using the hugely popular video game Fortnite to launder money through its in-game currency, The Independent can reveal.

The online battle royale game has become popular with children and teenagers because it is free to play and available on every major gaming platform. But the money spent within the game to buy outfits, weapons and other items has also made it popular with cybercriminals.

Stolen credit card details are being used to purchase V-bucks – the virtual currency used to buy items in the game – from the official Fortnite store. By selling V-bucks at a discounted rate to players, the criminals are effectively able to “clean” the money.

An investigation by The Independent into online black markets selling V-bucks, together with research by cyber security firm Sixgill, revealed the scale of the money laundering operations.

Discounted V-bucks are being sold in bulk on the dark web – a hidden section of the internet only accessible using specialist software – as well as in smaller quantities on the open web by advertising them on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

By posing as potential customers, Sixgill agents uncovered operations being conducted around the globe in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic and English.

“Criminals are executing carding fraud and getting money in and out of the Fortnite system with relative impunity,” Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at Sixgill, told The Independent.

Threat actors [a malicious person or entity] are scoffing at Epic Games’ weak security measures, saying that the company doesn’t seem to care about players defrauding the system and purchasing discounted V-bucks… This directly touches on the ability of threat actors to launder money through the game.”

With more than 200 million players worldwide, the game generated $3bn (£2.3bn) profit in 2018 for Fortnite developer Epic Games.

It is unclear how much profit criminals were able to make through money laundering, though Sixgill found that Fortnite items grossed more than $250,000 on eBay in a 60 day period last year.

Figures from the firm also show that the number of mentions of Fortnite on the dark web have risen in direct correlation with the game’s monthly revenues.

One dark web seller seen by The Independent claims to be offering V-Bucks at a discounted rate as a form of charity. “I’m f**king rich as f**k,” they wrote in the product’s description. “Now it’s time to give back to the deep web at a massive discounted rate.”

The vendor accepts bitcoin and bitcoin cash, two semi-anonymous cryptocurrencies that are difficult for law enforcement agencies to track.

‘Fortnite’ V-bucks listed on a popular dark web market this month (Screengrab/The Independent)

Separate research by IT security firm Zerofox found 53,000 different instances of online scams relating to Fortnite between early September and early October. An estimated 86 per cent of the scam incidents were shared via social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Fortnite developer Epic Games did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent, and security experts say the firm is not doing enough to prevent illegal activity on its platform.

“Epic Games doesn’t seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding Fortnite, money laundering or otherwise,” Mr Preminger said.

“While completely stopping such criminal activity is extremely difficult, several steps could be taken to mitigate the phenomenon, including monitoring the transfer of high-value goods in the game, identifying players with large stockpiles of V-bucks, and sharing data with relevant law enforcement agencies.”

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